Samuel "Happy Jack" Johnson

Biography by

"Happy Jack" was the nickname for this lively and versatile Appalachian picker who, although proficient on three instruments, was mostly known for his unique two-finger banjo style. He was a "double-thumber,"…
Read Full Biography

Artist Biography by

"Happy Jack" was the nickname for this lively and versatile Appalachian picker who, although proficient on three instruments, was mostly known for his unique two-finger banjo style. He was a "double-thumber," but this was the name of a banjo technique, not a description of someone hitch-hiking who stashes a second passenger by the side of the road. He learned guitar at the age of eight after his father left one standing against the side of the chair, to see if his talented offspring would be able to figure out what to do with it. Whether recording several albums for Folkways satisfied the old man or not is unknown, but the youngster's guitar efforts were certainly good enough to prompt a banjo to be brought out a few years later, this time taught by the father simply pointing to different strings and fret positions. When he got good enough to start playing more complicated music, there was no need to go any further than his own living room once again, where the members of the group the Fruit Jar Drinkers were frequent guests. That means Sam and Kirk McGee and Uncle Dave Macon sitting around his house picking, not an unpleasant thought. Johnson's first group of his own was the Richmond County Ramblers, which came up with the aforementioned nickname from within its ranks. This group had a regular slot on the radio station WAYN broadcasting out of Rockingham, NC. This was also his last group because unlike some players who try a whole series of bands before giving up music, Johnson bagged it after the Richmond County Ramblers stopped rambling, settling into a life of raising tobacco, corn, and grain near Pilot Mountain. He took part in the casual recording sessions that produced the two volumes of Old Time Music at Clarence Ashley's on Folkways.